Throughout the years, the Mets have trotted out a variety of young pitchers with high hopes that they would turn out to be staples in the rotation. It rarely worked out that way. Today we will pluck out a pitcher from each of their most successful seasons, and then bring it back to the present to see what our hopes are for this season.
In 1969, 23-year-old righty Gary Gentry joined the rotation. He went 13-12 over 35 starts with a 3.43 ERA over 233.2 innings. He ended up slotting in after Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman and served as a very dependable #3 starter. He won a game in the ’69 world series giving up three hits and no runs over 6.2 innings and in that same game he had a double in three plate appearances and drove in two runs. He pitched in parts of three more seasons with the Mets as essentially a .500 pitcher and finished out his career with four mediocre seasons with the Braves.
In 1973, 27-year-old George Stone joined the rotation. He went a surprising 12-3 over twenty starts with a 2.80 ERA over 148 innings. Stone was an integral part of this team that just squeaked into the playoffs. While he did not have a decision in the post season, he threw 6.2 innings against the Reds in the NLCS giving up only one run on a home run and threw three innings of scoreless relief against the A’s in the world series. He was mediocre pitching parts of two more seasons with the Mets and never came close to his 1973 form.
In 1986, 27-year-old Rick Aguilera had his second year in the rotation. The year before when the Mets lost out to the Cardinals, he went 10-7 over 19 starts, with a 3.24 ERA over 122.1 innings. In 1986 he had an identical 10-7 record over twenty starts although with an increased 3.88 ERA over 141.2 innings. He threw five innings of scoreless relief against the Astros in the NLCS but got pounded in his two world series relief outings against the Red Sox, giving up eight hits and four runs over three innings. He spent two more years with the team before eventually moving on to several years with Minnesota and a few other teams where he established himself as a premier reliever.
In 2000, Glendon Rusch joined the rotation going 11-11 over 30 starts with a 4.01 ERA over 190.2 innings. In the NLDS against the Giants he struck out the only two batters he faced. In the NCLS against the Cardinals he pitched 3.2 scoreless innings giving up three hits but no runs. In the world series against the Yankees he appeared in three games, giving up one run over 4 innings of work. Rusch played one more season with the Mets finishing with an 8-12 record with an ERA that jumped to 4.63. He played for five more teams after the Mets but never came close to duplicating his 2000 performance.
In 2015, 26-six-year-old Matt Harvey was in his 3rd season with the Mets. He had ten starts in 2012 (3-5 record with a 2.73 ERA) and 26 starts in 2013 (9-5 record with a 2.27 ERA) and then missed the 2014 season due to injuries. In 2015, Harvey emerged back on the scene with a 13-8 record, a 2.71 ERA over 29 starts and 189.1 innings to go along with 188 Ks. We all thought we were seeing the second coming of Tom Seaver. In the 2015 NLDS against the Dodgers he pitched five innings giving up three runs, two of which were earned. In the NLCS against the Cubs, he pitched 7.2 innings, giving two runs and striking out nine. In the world series against the Royals he started two games, pitching to a 3.21 ERA over 14 innings giving up five earned runs and striking out 11. After throwing eight shutout innings in game five, the smart money was on bringing in Familia to close out the game. However, Harvey could be seen visibly arguing with manager Terry Collins to stay in, and after how he pitched through 8 innings, it was not an entirely unwise decision to let him go out for the 9th. Well, that clearly did not work out the way we had hoped and it is reasonable that Collins second guesses his decision to this day. Harvey was as bright a light as we had seen in a pitcher in many years and as we know, those bright lights can flame out, and he did.
In 2022 the Mets made the playoffs and David Peterson and Tyler MeGill pitched reasonably well for players who weren’t expecting to be in the rotation. Peterson, who went 8-8 in twenty-four starts the two prior years, had a 7-5 record in 19 starts with an ERA of 3.83 and recorded 126 Ks in 105.2 innings. Megill started 18 games in 2021 and ended up with a 4-6 record over 89.2 innings with 99 Ks. He started nine games in 2022 with another six in relief and ended up with a 4-2 record and a 5.13 ERA over 47.1 innings. Of the two, Peterson established himself as a solid alternative, yet the team acquired three front line starters before the 2023 season, which moved both he and Megill down on the pecking order.
So that brings us to 2023 where, due to injuries to four of our five starters, both Peterson and Megill once again became part of the rotation. With a few exceptions, both have been disappointing with neither firmly grabbing a rotation spot. Peterson has taken major steps backwards and yesterday, giving up nine hits and six earned runs in five innings, moved his ERA another half run higher to a horrible 8.08. Megill, after throwing seven scoreless innings against the Giants in his first start has seen his ERA steadily climb to its current ugly 4.43. In his last three starts, only once did he get to the 5th inning.
So who will be our surprise pitcher for 2023? The aforementioned injuries necessitated bringing up our 8th and 9th place starters – Jose Butto and Joey Lucchesi and we got some surprising results. Butto, through the end of April, had thrown 9.2 innings in two starts and pitched to a 2.79 ERA. His 10 walks over that time was excessive and his 3 Ks just not enough. He returned for a start this month and lasted only 2.1 innings. Lucchesi, who missed all of the 2022 season due to injuries, started off with an amazing seven-hitless innings against the Giants and followed that up with 5.1 serviceable innings against the Nationals. He was unable to get past the 4th inning in his last two starts, as his ERA has also climbed to 4.43. He pitched just two innings in a suspended game against the Nationals this past Saturday, giving up one run on four hits before they brought out the tarps.
While Butto or Lucchesi might still be our surprise pitchers for 2023, the smart money is on Kodai Senga, the only one of our original starters who did not go down with an injury. His propensity to walk batters continues to drive us crazy, but up until his last start his ERA was on a steady decline. Then came last Friday’s against the Nationals where he got pounded and gave up four first inning runs and upped his ERA almost a full run to 4.14. It seems with a little tinkering by Jeremy Hefner, Senga will get back on track and pay the dividend we hoped for when we signed him and end up being the diamond in the rough for the 2023 pitching staff.